I was able to attend two telecons for work, to accept the renegotiation of my NASA contract for later deliverables due to the delays that chemo has caused, and to start – and almost finish – a gift for my eight classmates who reached a milestone as they were accepted into the church last Sunday. Something moved me to take up needlecraft again, and as I sit patiently and rest, I’m stitching each of them a bookmark to carry with them in their brand new Bibles – the first that several of them have ever owned. (Each has a cross-stitched cross, and a single word: Love.)
We put up the Christmas tree – and by that I mean that C did, while the children laughingly danced around the back and helped him hang the strings of light while I sat snuggled up in my chair with my fuzzy pink ribbon/AGD blanket that was sent to me during my treatment in 2007. I wear it like a talisman on days that I’m sick, alternating it with the beautiful one sent by friends in Australia to keep me warm and cozy during the same time. I took pictures of their laughing faces, and Widget took a video of me saying how deliriously happy I was to be decorating the tree with my family this year. My heart swelled seven sizes that day, and it wasn’t just the Christmas carols on the radio, either.
We’ve kept up many of our traditions, although we haven’t introduced the Advent wreath this year, to my embarrasment, but it’s probably just as well, as Little Bear is only 3 and would surely be fascinated by the flame. We do have our Nativity up and tell the stories in our quiet moments. We went to church on Wednesday for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, prodded by 6-year-old Widget, who reminded me that it was a day important to the Sisters in our parish, so off we went. When the twelve raised their voices in a song of commitment, I was struck to the very core with the realization that angels do not just sing in the voices of 20-year-olds, or with the cherubic voices of children like the one sitting beside me, hand in my hand, head resting gently on my shoulder. Sometimes we hear the voices of angels in places we do not expect.
In my church growing up, Mrs. Suzanne Guthrie always sang the same song near the end of the Christmas Eve service: O Holy Night. (Mel, if you could have heard her sing it, you would have tears in your eyes –) She sang it in the same high first soprano voice that melts hearts all over the world each December 24th, but she did it so well and for so many years that Christmas just wasn’t Christmas until Suzanne sang O Holy Night. One of our madrigals, Beth Jones, took over the carol when Suzanne “retired” from choir solos as her voice began to tremble, but it was never really the same.
Oh, and I realized yesterday that I had not gotten an Advent calendar for the children in my pre-exhaustion weeks, and so I turned the problem over in my head a few times until I hit upon a solution – make my own, using a muffin pan and some little gifties I had hidden away for a time when I would need them, and be too tired to go out and buy something. I put cupcake liners in the pan, filled each with a few new and interesting legos, and covered the whole thing tightly with wrapping paper. I later found some much prettier versions on Etsy, but it was exciting to me to be able to improvise on the spot, to uphold our family traditions even when I couldn’t get out to the store. The children opened their first one today and found twenty little white bricks with eyes on them – and spent the next half-hour creating new animals, robots, and space planes with laser eyes.
When they saw what I had made, their eyes lit up. When we decorated the tree, it was magical – for all four of us. When they unthinkingly suck their little thumbs as they move the donkey and ox about the Nativity scene, when they jump into my lap, when Widget tells Little Bear, “No, Mama’s too tired, but we can snuggle her,” when we snuggle to read bedtime stories, and when they remind me, “Mama, it’s time for church,” I know that I’m doing the right thing. As hard as it is not to jump back into work and everything with both feet, that’s not my first priority right now. Right now, I’m doing what I need to do with work, and making time to make Christmas for my children. My beautiful, sweet, thoughtful boys.
And I write this not only for you, that you see what life is like for a woman constrained by illness, but for them, that they will one day see that even in the difficult times, there is room to encourage and appreciate the beauty in ordinary life. That my greatest joy is my children, and that they bring me no end of gratitude and love, and for them I will do anything – even rest and heal – so that I can write them love letters for
months and years to come.